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Tribute to Ron Bridge

Sadly we report the death of Ronald William ‘Ron’ Bridge MBE AFC FRAeS FRIN.

Ron, who was well known to many of the FEPOW and Civilian Internee community, was born in Tianjin’s British Concession, China in 1934. He passed away peacefully at home in Sussex, U.K. on 27th September 2020 aged 86.

When on 8th December 1941 the Japanese Army took control of the Tianjin’s British Concession, 8-year-old Ron, his parents and baby brother spent almost a year under ‘house arrest’, curfews and moves to different hotels by the Japanese. In March 1943 the family, including his maternal grandparents were moved with hundreds of others to Weihsien in the Shandong province. Weihsin Civilian Assembly Centre was a former American Presbyterian mission where they had established a school, seminary and hospital. But by 1943 it was “a scene of destruction and despair. Japanese had taken over the residences at their headquarters the rest of the compound had suffered from looting and neglect and a motley collection of run down buildings where about 1500 of us were stuffed like sardines” (David Michell: A Boy’s War, Overseas Missionary Fellowship 1988, p.62-3).

In these ‘run down buildings’ Ron, his baby brother and his parents struggled with the primitive conditions for the following two and a half years.

Liberation came on 17th August 1945, Ron writes, “… suddenly a large American aircraft appeared from the sky and out of the rear dropped seven parachutes. We ran down the sloping road and through the gate, the guards made no attempt to stop us. As we approached the paratroopers emerged from six foot high kaoliang with guns at waist height. When they realised that they were being approached by schoolboys, women crying and gangly thin men they relaxed….One of my friends grabbed a parachute and we passed the silk around. Anyone got a knife. A knife appeared and the panels of the parachute were soon mutilated and our heroes asked to sign before they disappeared into camp. The good natured soldiers obliged us…I got all seven signatures. Seventy years later I still have it and the names of the Duck team.”  (Ron Bridge; No Soap, Less School. Chillies Oast Publishing, 2019, p.147-150).

On 17th October 1945, two months to the day after they were ‘liberated’ Ron and family left the camp and flew back to Tianjin. There was a brief repatriation to England in 1946 and then the family returned to China. Ron, aged 17 finally arrived to settle in England in July 1951 where he joined ICI. At the age of 18 he joined the RAF and, much later, worked for various civilian air lines including British Airways. During his career he was awarded the Air Force Cross, various Directorships and Fellowships, including the Freedom of the Honourable Company of Air Pilots and the Freedom of the City of London.

Ron’s recollections of life in China, internment and his later career are vividly recounted in his autobiography: (Ron Bridge; No Soap, Less School. Chillies Oast Publishing, 2019.)  

But for the FEPOW and Civilian Internee families Ron will be remembered for his Chairmanship of ABCIFER, the Association of British Civilian Internees Far East Region.

ABCIFER was founded in 1994 with the aim of seeking compensation for the suffering of civilian internees in the Far East during W.W.II. Keith Martin was the first Chairman, Ron took over chairmanship in 1999. This period and his tenacious support and fight for compensation is modestly covered in just one paragraph at the end of his memoirs. But in truth it was a long and hard battle that went on for years with both Ron and Keith spending many hours in the Public Records Office going through files and finding the evidence to support the claim.

In 1995, with the help of British lawyer Martin Day, ABCIFER and the Centre for Internees Rights, Inc. (CFIR), the main American group for civilians, joined forces with groups from Australia and New Zealand to file a lawsuit against the Japanese government for compensation for the ill-treatment they had received in the camps. Their claim for $20,000 dollars each is based on compensation paid to American Japanese interned by the Americans during the Second World War.

In 1999 Royal British Legion took up the request for a special gratuity for POWs of the Japanese. Towards the end of 2000 Lewis Moonie, British Defence Minister, told MPs that the surviving Britons who were held captive by the Japanese and the widows of those who had since died were to receive an ex gratia payment of £10,000 each. Moonie claimed that this was a “debt of honour” owed to civilian, forces and merchant navy captives.

But just six months later, after thousands of applications had been made and paid, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) who were now administrating the scheme, clarified the criteria for payment.  It was no longer sufficient to hold a British passport and to have been interned to qualify for compensation. Now it was essential for claimants to have a proven “blood-link

Although he was not personally affected by this Ron was “appalled that those internees who were British Passport holders but due to being Jewish, coloured born in Ireland or women who had obtained British nationality by marriage prior to 1941, were excluded from the ex gratia payment of £10,000 implemented by Tony Blair.” (Ron Bridge.p. 215.)

Hence Ron continued his campaign and with the help of ABCIFER’s solicitors he was able to “get four QCs to act pro bono and with additional support from 300 Members of parliament, to defeat the MOD in the High Court” (Ron Bridge p.215) It was a long fight. It was not until 2006 that compensation was paid.

We are sure that those who received the original ex gratia payment and those who fell into the excluded category and their families feel a huge debt of gratitude for Ron’s tenacity, drive and his endless campaigning for which he was quite rightly appointed an MBE in 2007.

But that was not the end. Ron’s energy, enthusiasm and commitment to maintaining and helping preserve the history of POW and Civilian Internment in the Far East during World War II continued. He created a most comprehensive data base of civilian internees and POWs and was most definitely the ‘go to person’ for those seeking detailed information about internees. 

Ron’s passing is a huge loss to all those who knew him. But, a copy of his database is now available for all to view at St Michael, Cornhill. (St Michael’s Alley, Cornhill, London EC3V 9DS)

FEPOW Memorial Stone Unveiled in Leicester

A memorial stone dedicated to all men, women, and children who served or were interned has be unveiled in Leicester. Installed with funds raised by COFEPOW, the stone has been installed in Peace Walk, next to the Arch of Remembrance at Victoria Park.

More information can be found here.

Also in Leicester, an exhibition for the 75th annivaersay of VJ day is being held. VJ 75 – Leicestershire Prisoners of War in the Far East, 1941 – 45 is displayed until the 8th November 2020 at Newarke House Museum & Gardens.

Anniversary: Repatriation Memorial, Liverpool

On this day in 2011, the Repatriation Memorial was unveiled in a service led by Rector of Liverpool, Rev Steve Brookes. The ceremony on the pier head was attended by 650 people who watched as the granite plaque, engraved with the names of the repatiration ships that docked at Liverpool and dedicated to 20,000 British servicemen and 1,000 civilians who were aboard them, was revealed.

One such serviceman, Maurice Naylor CBE, a former FEPOW and Gunner in the 135th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, who himself returned to Liverpool after survivng the camps aboard the SS Orduna, unveiled the plaque as part of the ceremony.

The memorial was funded through a national fundraising campaign, led by RFHG, that raised £8000 and remembers those that managed to make it home. It is the first of two such memorials (the second is in Southampton and was unveiled in 2013) marking the repatriation of Far East captives. Each lists the names of the repatriation ships that arrived between 7 October and mid-December 1945, either side of a dedication to the memory of all those held in Far East captivity.

You can read more about the ceremony, including quotes from Maurice, here.

An interview with former FEPOW Bert Warne was recently featured on ITV. Although the placque shown is the Southampton FEPOW Merorial, Bert’s ship did dock at Liverpool. You can read more about Bert, and watch his interview, here.

Photo Tribute Project

An online memorial project, organised by COFEPOW members Pam Gillespie and Gail Taylor, is aiming to gather 1000 photos of those that served in the Far East during the Second World War in time for Rememberance Day.

They have so far collected 600 pictures since the project was inspired during the VJ Day 75th Anniversary.

You can read more about the project here.

You can submit a photo of a relative who served by emailing galleryofheroes@outlook.com or through the “VJ Day Gallery of Heroes” group on Facebook.

Remembering Maurice Naylor CBE

20 December 1920- 30 September 2020

(Header image shows Maurice delivering the FEPOW Address at the 2010 conference)

On 2 June 1973, in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, William Maurice Naylor was awarded the CBE for Services to the NHS. At the time Maurice was Chief Executive of Trent Regional Health Authority one of only four regions in England. It was the pinnacle of an administrative career that had begun in the late 1930s. Having grown up in Hazel Grove in Cheshire, Maurice worked for Manchester Corporation at the Town Hall in Albert Square. While there, he studied for a degree in Administration at Manchester University. When war came, Maurice was initially in a reserved occupation but once his Call Up papers arrived, he joined the 135th Field Regiment Royal Artillery.

Maurice was a great friend to the Researching FEPOW History Group (RFHG). He attended his first conference, held at the National Memorial Arboretum, in 2008. In 2010 Maurice was among the eight former FEPOW and three Civilian Internees, invited as guests of the third conference at which he was asked to give the FEPOW Address. Composed and with a straight face, he began by thanking the RFHG for inviting him to open the Conservative conference! It brought the house down.

Click here to see a recording of Maurice’s address on YouTube

His address focused on his liberation and repatriation from captivity in 1945. He spoke about arriving back in Liverpool and the difficulties of adjusting once back home. He recalled that it was not until 1981, and recently retired, that he went back to Thailand for the first time, visiting the bridge over the River Kwai and the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in Kanchanaburi:

“I decided then that I owed it to those who had died, and their families, for the story of those years to become better known. I started to give talks to organisations like Probus and Rotary in and around South Yorkshire.

He continued:

I came to the 2008 Conference to find out more and was overwhelmed by the welcome that I and my fellow FEPOWs received. There are not many of us left now to tell the tale and soon there will be none.

It is gratifying and comforting to know that there are younger people still around, able and willing to give their time and energy to researching and recording the history of FEPOWs and civilian Internees and passing it on to future generations”.

Click here to read the full transcript of Maurice’s address.

In 2009 Maurice was interviewed for the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine’s FEPOW oral history study. Softly spoken and with a trace of his Mancunian roots, his interview radiates a calm authority, his answers clear and considered. Every word counted.

His administrative training was to come in useful when, in 1943 at Tamarkan Camp in Thailand, he offered to assist the Senior British Officer, Lt Col. Philip Toosey, who was also Commanding Officer of 135th Field Regiment. At interview, Maurice recalled the occasion:

“I approached Colonel Toosey on the parade ground on one occasion, “I’ve got a degree in administration, I can do clerical work without any problems, if you want any assistance in the camp office let me know.” And he said Alright… A few weeks later he and Major David Boyle came charging into the hut I was in and Toosey said, “There he is, that’s the one, come with me.” So, I went to the camp office… they wanted me to take over from [Sergeant Neave who was sick] …It was against my principles really to get too involved with the Japanese, the lower profile you could keep the better really…”

Having sailed from Liverpool in November 1941 he arrived back there in early November 1945 almost five years to the day, on board the SS Orbita. He recalled it vividly, and his struggle to regain his balance once home:

“I got the train from Liverpool to Manchester and then got the bus to Hazel Grove and walked down the lane and my Dad came and met me half-way down, that was it… [initially] I reacted very badly. I was not able to communicate with people. I couldn’t stand the triviality of conversation. I would sit down to breakfast with my parents then I’d have to go upstairs and go to my bedroom. It must have been hard for them …I think the psychological effect of being a prisoner was much greater than the physical effects, as far as I was concerned at any rate …I’ve never discovered whether it was out of consideration for me, or because it was they didn’t want to know, but nobody ever asked questions about it. And I never said anything.  And it was as though everybody wanted to forget about it… “.

On 15 October 2011, a brilliantly sunny autumn day, in front of a crowd of 650 gathered on the Pier Head overlooking the River Mersey, Maurice unveiled the first of the RFH Group’s two Repatriation Memorial stone plaques. The day before, he had met former Liverpool merchant seaman, Stan Buchanan, who as a 20-year-old had served as Deck Steward on board the SS Orbita, on its return voyage from Rangoon.





Maurice with Stan Buchanan, in front of the Liver Building 14 October 2011

In an interview for The Guardian at the time, Maurice said:

“It is 66 years since we arrived back in this great port of Liverpool to the sound of ships sirens and the cheers of multitudes of onlookers and well-wishers… [This] is a memorial, too, to the girlfriends, spouses, parents and grandparents who had to put up with us and our idiosyncrasies. And we must remember those many thousands of our fellow prisoners who, sadly, died during their captivity in atrocious conditions. Their families continue to suffer too, and their sacrifice should never be forgotten”.

Two years’ later, Maurice travelled to Southampton for the unveiling of the second Repatriation Memorial. At the Service of Dedication, he gave this reading from Philippians 4, verses 10-13:

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Maurice died on 30 September aged 99. The Researching FEPOW History Group has lost a great friend.

FAR EAST POWs RETURNING HOME – WARNINGS OF FORTHCOMING HEALTH PROBLEMS

By Professor Geoff Gill, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

During their  three and a half years of imprisonment in the Far East, POWS suffered overwork and maltreatment, but also undernutrition and exposure to various tropical diseases. This frequently led to attacks of malaria and dysentery, as well as various  syndromes of vitamin deficiency. Tropical ulcers and cholera outbreaks also occurred – particularly in the jungle camps of the Thai-Burma Railway.

In September 1945, Professor Brian Maegraith of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM)  addressed a group of families in Blackpool, whose relatives were ex-POWs on their way home. Maegraith warned of likely relapses of malaria and dysentery, as well as psychological problems. Contrary to standard advice, he told the families to “let them talk” of their experiences. Below is a photo of this meeting published in the local Blackpool newspaper.

A letter appeared in the British Medical Journal in December 1945,  drawing attention to the inadequacy of medical screening of returning Far East POWs.  Dr F E Cayley (himself a former Burma Railway POW doctor) pointed out the high rates of intestinal parasitic infections amongst these men (notably amoebiasis – the main cause of dysentery relapses), and recommended routine microscopic examination of stool specimens.  Such examinations were almost never done, the only relevant precautionary measure being an information leaflet given to some returning Far East POWs, the text of which is shown below –

  INFORMATION LEAFLET FOR THE MEDICAL ATTENDANTS OF A REPATRIATED PRISONER   Some diseases, which do not normally occur in this country, are present in the countries in which you have been serving. It is essential for the protection of yourself, your family and your friends and to prevent any possible epidemics of disease in this country that any illness from which you may suffer while you are on leave, or after your release from the Services, should receive immediate medical attention.   Notes for Medical Practitioners The following diseases commonly occur in the Far East POW   – Malaria, Dysentery (including Amoebic Dysentery), nutritional deficiencies, skin diseases and worm infestations.  

Failure of adequate medical screening and follow-up of returning Far East POWs was a lost opportunity which was to have lasting effects. Post-war, over 4,000 of these men were seen at the military hospital Queen Mary’s Roehampton (1945 to 1967), and a similar number at the Liverpool  School of Tropical Medicine (1945 to 1999). There were early relapses of malaria and dysentery, increased tuberculosis risk, chronic intestinal worm infections, and permanent neurological damage due to vitamin B deficiency. Perhaps most importantly, over one-third suffered significant psychiatric illness, later recognised as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Thankfully, there were some benefits from  this unfortunate episode. The Liverpool School conducted a major research project on the long term  health problems of ex-Far East POWs, leading to a series of papers in the medical literature. These have significantly contributed to the knowledge-base and clinical practice of both tropical and military medicine. As  numbers of ex-POWs declined, the LSTM FEPOW Project has moved to recording the oral, art and medical history of the POW experience. This has resulted in the books Captive Memories (M Parkes & G Gill, 2015),  Burma Railway Medicine  (G Gill & M Parkes, 2017), and Captive Artists (M Parkes, G Gill & J Wood, 2019) – see the captivememories.org.uk  website for more details.

Mortality and liberation in Palembang

By Michiel Schwartzenberg

The unilateral cease-fire on 15 August should have resulted in an immediate improvement of the plight of the PoW. The Japanese had been ordered to do so. However, in some places the conditions had deteriorated to such an extent that the dying continued before the situation was brought under control.

The predicament at Palembang

RAPWI team ‘Blunt’ entered its assigned camp at Palembang, Sumatra on 4 September and four days later reported: ‘908 PoW, 272 hospitalized and 249 died of malnutrition and illness’. According to a message 10 September the situation had not improved: ‘British 470, hospital 150. Many dying. Civilian men, women and children. Need urgent medical relief air supplies.’ Another two days later SEAC HQ in Ceylon received a request from Palembang for a medical team immediately because  ‘Doctors here are as weak as patients and cannot cope. Medical supplies […] urgently required. Immediate evacuation of sick essential; 50 by air and 200 by sea’. Even Lord Bevin (Minister of Foreign Affairs) in London was worried (message 12 September): ‘Almost complete absence of information about Java and Sumatra in contrast to voluminous publicity about other areas is causing alarm…. There is in fact ground for concern since deaths actually reported by Japanese through International Committee Red Cross in Geneva are much higher in proportion than anywhere else in the Far East.’

The actual situation can be gauged by reading two post war reports by senior British PoW: Wing Commander W.R. Wills-Sandford (https://www.cofepow.org.uk/armed-forces-stories-list/japanese-treatment-of-raf) and Surgeon-Lieutenant J.G. Reed (not available online). Reeds statistics clearly show the mortality to 21 August:

Camp strengthAug date#date#
26 May in camp1.15913*152
15 Sept in camp89923167
15-20 Sept hosp air evac24036176
46184
1945 monthly mortality rate51192
Jan369206
Feb677**213
March5Week 135Week 330
April186221
May2294233
June44102240
July99115252
Aug109125261
Sept 1-2010135270
total299146280
Week 233291
302
*Cease fire311
** rations increaseWeek 411

Dr. Reeds analysis of the sharp increase in mortality is equally clear: ‘a policy of starvation’ as he called it. On 27 May 1945 the rationing was cut by the Japanese (measured in grams of rice):

dutyheavylightnone / ill
from500300250
to400250150
average given300225200
21 Aug550550550

Even these rations were not met; one week only 233 gr was issued. On 21 August, a week after the cease fire, the rations increased. Dr Reed noted that before 27 May the main cause of death was disease (dysentery); after 27 May it was starvation. He also noted that the starvation due to the 27 May decease became apparent in 6 weeks; whereas the recovery from 21 August was immediate. Dr Reed allowed for the psychological factor of liberation and the increase in morale: “The general effect of being able to put a man off duty and tell him to lie back and absorb his 500g of rice per day had to be seen to be believed.”

Air Supply by the RAPWI

Before the arrival of the RAPWI teams, the RAF dropped supplies to all known camps in South East Asia. This operation to supply the camps by air was called ‘MASTIFF B’ and started with Red Cross supplies of a general nature. As the RAPWI teams entered the camps they would take stock of the material needs and place orders with RAPWI Main Control on Ceylon. RAPWI Main Control would make an assessment of all the requests of all the camps in SEAC and the availability of supplies and aircraft and allot them accordingly. There were 4 categories of supplies and 2 kinds of packing: containers and packs. For Palembang the supplies were delivered:

SuppliesRed CrossClothingMedicalFoodPersonnel
datecontpackcontpackcontcontpack
31-aug116
1-sep36
11-sep7113
12-sep11101031910
13-sepCapt Mockler RAMC parachute
15-sep1110
16-sep1119
17-sep129
22-sep22020
23-sep1110
total2259112358162
in Kg5.3102.96181011.59920.680 total

The chart shows that the after the initial Red Cross supply droppings, the supply ceased until the RAPWI team Blunt managed to place orders mainly for food and medicine as well as an additional medical team.

Evacuation to Singapore

Following the advent of RAPWI team Blunt the situation improved and after 12 September things happened quickly:

12 live broadcast of surrender ceremony in Singapore shared with PoW  

13 Medical team lead by Dr. Mockler[1] arrived (by parachute) from Ceylon

14 Japanese finally cooperated: they were helpful in giving supplies of food and

clothing. “Their attitude has lately been correct” as RAPWI team Blunt put it.

15 new hospital was put in operation

19 Palembang visited by Lady Mountbatten which was ‘extremely popular’

15 – 20 all 240 ill PoW evacuated by Dakota to Singapore

21 – 25 evacuation of the 600 British by Dakota to Singapore

PO 1027.002 PAKANBARU, SUMATRA, 1945-09-17. RAAF FLIGHT TO EVACUATE PRISONERS OF WAR (POWS) OF THE JAPANESE TO SINGAPORE. THE FIRST GROUP OF POWS ARE ON STRETCHERS AT THE AIRSTRIP.
PO 0444.193 LIBERATED ALLIED AND AUSTRALIAN PRISONERS OF WAR FROM PALEMBANG, SUMATRA, RELATE THEIR EXPERIENCE TO A BRITISH WAR CORRESPONDENT IN SINGAPORE. (no date)

Medical evacuation of PoW from Pakan Baroe to     Interview of PoW from Singapore, 17 September. Pakan Baroe, Sumatra   Palembang in Singapore[2] is not Palembang, but the scene was similar.

019382 Sumatra. 1945. Imprisoned Australian troops released in Sumatra shown carrying the food containers used to transport food to the prisoners. The food was almost inedible. Left to right: Sergeant F. Brown of Adelaide, SA; Private (Pte) L. Bett of Launceston, Tas; Pte P. Renson of Southport, Tas; Pte G. Spencer of Bracknell, Tas; Pte J. Rose of Ulverstone, Tas; C. Bell of Melbourne, Vic; and C. Foster of Adelaide, SA.
019383 Singapore? September 1945. Lady Mountbatten speaking to Australian prisoners of war (POWs) who had been liberated from the Japanese POW camp in Sumatra. They had been poorly fed and badly treated.

Two pictures of Lady Mountbattens tour on Sumatra 15-19 September, camp not known.

Conclusion

The Japanese should never have mistreated their PoW and put their heath and lives in peril. Throughout the war and in all camps the treatment had been brutal and negligent. But Palembang may have been one of the few camps genuinely in acute danger of mass starvation for whom the Japanese cease fire came in just time. It did not, however, result in an immediate improvement of the situation; this only occurred a week later when the rations increased. The advent of the RAPWI team Blunt on 4 September lead to improvements, although it took yet another week (11 September) before the RAF started delivering the supplies that were desired. But the end was in sight; the evacuation of the ill PoW commenced 15 September and after completion is was the turn of the healthy to leave.

One cannot undo the past, but one can count the possible difference made by compliance by the Japanese to the terms of the Allies and a much sooner arrival of the British RAPWI teams on Sumatra.

Thirty-nine lives.


[1] Captain J. Mockler is one of the few RAPWI-personnel that died in active duty. On 5 November Mockler (IAMC) and J.W. Smith (RAA) were supervising the evacuation of RAPWI at Benkulen, Sumatra. They were attacked and Smith was wounded. Mockler died and was buried in Palembang; he now rests in Jakarta.

[2] The AWM description is problematic. There weren’t any Australians in Palembang and the men seem very emaciated despite having had food and rest for a month.

On This Day

2nd September 1945

  • The ‘Japanese Instrument of Surrender’ is signed aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo bay as part of the official Japanese Surrender ceremony.
  • President Truman declares VJ Day; the Second World War officially ends after six years and one day.
  • Ho Chi Minh declares independence from France and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam is established.

Extracts from the diary notes of Captain A.A. Duncan A&SH: Homeward Bound

By Meg Parkes

My father, Captain Atholl Duncan, kept a diary throughout his captivity in Java and Japan until 30 January 1945 when it became too dangerous. On 15 August that year he finally felt safe enough to resume chronicling events. Over the next few weeks made copious notes covering the intervening months.

Early September 1945

This is the last photograph taken of him, newly liberated but still at Miyata camp on the island of Kyushu. He weighed under seven stone and was awaiting evacuation from Japan. His party of British officers, transferred from Zentsuji in June that year, finally left Miyata on 20 September 1945. He noted:

“On the 19th, the B-29s again paid us a visit, dropping more than 500 cases of food etc, and I was rather ironical to think that we should be deluged with supplies when they were of no use to us. However, the were not wasted as they were collected and distributed to Chinese POW camps in the area, and I have no doubt that they would not be long in polishing the whole lot off. The afternoon and evening were spent dumping all unwanted kit and attending to the hundred and one odd jobs which cropped up and as we were due for an early start on the morrow, I went to bed early.

Next morning, I rose at 4am and was ready to move off at the scheduled 5.15 when lorries transported us down to the special train which was to convey us to Nagasaki. Before leaving, we all bequeathed our cast off clothing and surplus food supplies to the Koreans who had been acting as servants to us for the past week or so; poor creatures, they almost fell on our necks and wept when they realised they could take what they pleased, and the last we saw of them as we marched out of the gates for the last time, was a line of bowing orientals, all saying, “Sayonara, hancho arigato gosiemus” or in English, “Goodbye, Sir, thank you very much”.

Miyata Sept 1945, street outside the railway Station (courtesy Mansell.com)

“The journey to Nagasaki was pleasant and uneventful taking about six hours to cover the 80 miles. We had heard stories about the destruction caused by the atomic bomb which had been dropped there but were quite unprepared for the sight we saw. The town lies at the head of a long narrow inlet which is surrounded by wooded hills, the factory region having been at the top of the “U”. The first thing that caught our eye was a hillside of trees completely stripped of foliage giving it the appearance of a petrified forest.  We then came into what had been the town, but what was now a pile of rubble, twisted steel girders, tangled cable wires and charred ruins, and all the way down to the docks – a distance of several miles – the same utter and complete devastation existed. Nagasaki as a town had ceased to exist!”

The view of the scene in Nagasaki was taken by Lt R.C. Nomsen USCG (courtesy M. Parkes)

This photograph, taken across the dashboard of a US Coastguard Jeep in mid-September 1945, shows part of the devastated city. Taken by US Coastguard officer Lt Richard C. Nomsen who was an officer on USS LST 795, part of the American repatriation force anchored in Nagasaki Harbour. The ship had taken part in the landings on Iwo Jima and Okinawa earlier that year.

Incredibly, rail links to the dock area were still open and Duncan described the scene awaiting their arrival on the quayside station platform:

As the train drew into the docks, we heard the strains of a band playing, “California, here we come”, and as we came to halt, men and officers of the US Navy and Marine Corps cheered us and then led us to a canteen where we were given doughnuts and coffee, and where two ladies of the American Red Cross bade us all a welcome.

POW at Nagasaki quayside rail station, waiting to board USS Chenango, September 1945

The photograph above shows an earlier party of former POW arriving off a train on to the same quayside platform at Nagasaki on 13 September 1945.

Photograph of Nagasaki quayside rail station platform (courtesy D. Rowland)

A week later this photograph was taken on the same platform. Sent to me in 2003 by the photographer, former Lt Dale Rowland USCG a crewmember on USS LST 795, it shows my father’s party being led down a ramp to the awaiting US Red Cross teams at the station.

“Before we knew where we were we had been shepherded off to tables where orderlies and doctors questioned us about treatment, health etc, after which we dumped all our clothes, put any valuables we wished to retain in a bag for disinfecting, were given a shower, issued with new clothes, more food and drink, toilet kit, cigarettes, writing materials, towel, boots and a news bulletin, put on a landing barge and whisked off to waiting shipping, which was due to sail that afternoon. All of this occupied less than three quarters of an hour and is the finest piece of organising I have ever seen.”

Transport across Nagasaki Harbour to LST-795 (courtesy D. Rowland)

Another of Rowland’s photographs is this one taken on board the LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicles and Personnel). The man on the left of the vessel, second back from the boarding ramp, facing the camera and with a cigar in his mouth, could possibly be my father, the resemblance is uncanny.

His notes continued:

“Before any of us had time to realise it, we were off Japan and on Allied territory – to wit, an American ship. Once again, our reception was terrific, everybody welcoming us and enquiring if there was anything we needed. I’m afraid they must have thought us all a bit queer as we fired question after question at them on every conceivable subject form war news to the prices of cameras and watches.”

LST 795, photograph given to Capt. Duncan by Lt. R.C. Nomsen USCG (courtesy M.Parkes)

“The boat which was to take us away from Japan was L.S.T.–795, or Landing Ship Tanks, No.795. It had a doorway and ramp in the bows and when our landing barge drew alongside, the bow doors were open, so we ran onto the parent vessel. Cabin accommodation was provided for officers while the men were housed in the main tank deck with camp beds on which to sleep. That evening, after we had sailed, a cinema show was put on for our benefit – Cary Grant in ‘Once Upon a Honeymoon’ – and when we retired for the night onto beds with spring mattresses and brand new snowy white blankets, we all agreed that it was hard to believe that in 24 hours so much could have taken place.”

Duncan shared a cabin with Coastguard officer Lt Richard Nomsen during the two-day voyage to Okinawa. Perhaps they discovered a shared interest in photography as Nomsen gave him four photographs, two of the ship’s crew and two of scenes around Nagasaki.

On the back of the crew photograph the third signature is Nomsen’s and below him, Commanding Officer Lt Shevlin (my father has written the ship’s name at the bottom).

While on board he wrote a letter home to the family and his fiancée Elizabeth, enclosing the handwritten notes that he had made since 15th August. At Okinawa he transhipped to USS Renville for the longer voyage to Manila in the Philippines, arriving on 1 October. After nearly three weeks in an Australian tented transit camp there, on 19 October he boarded the USS General Brewster bound for San Francisco. They docked on 1 November and while the rest continued their homeward journey travelling by train to Canada, he stayed in nearby Oakland with family friends for a few days. A few days’ later he took the train to New York where, on 12 November, he boarded HMT Queen Mary for the final leg of his journey around the world. He docked in Southampton on Sunday 18 November.

Page 5 Southern Daily Echo, Southampton, Monday 19 October 1945

The Argyll’s pipe and drum band was playing on the quayside where his father was waiting for him. They arrived back to the family home in St Andrews two days’ later.

Two months’ later, on 30 January, he married Elizabeth. By April he had returned to the university in St Andrews having transferred courses from engineering to study medicine. He qualified in 1950 and became a GP in Wirral in 1951.

The diaries are a precious reminder of those years. He allowed me to transcribe them providing copies for myself and my sisters, finally entrusting them to my care. He never forgave the Japanese for the needless neglect, brutality and suffering meted out to POW and innocent civilians during the war. He never forgot the friendships he made, nor those he had to leave behind.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The diaries were self-published in two parts, “Notify Alec Rattray…” (2002) and “…A.A. Duncan is OK” (2003). Sharing the diaries led to my working with Geoff Gill at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. Visit www.captivememories.org.uk to find out more about our research. My thanks to Dad for allowing me access to his diaries in my early 20s, and for sharing so much about his captivity. Thanks to the late Dale Rowland, who in 2002 shared photographs and invaluable insights with me about the first leg of my father’s journey home.

“To Remember Them is to Honour Them”